A teen killer convicted and sentenced to life without parole 36 years ago in the brutal 1982 slaying of a Gloucester man has, indeed, been granted parole. He is on a track to be freed within a year.
John Jones was 17 at the time he and a 16-year-old accomplice conspired to rob Donald Pinkham and then beat, burned and killed the 47-year-old. Now 53, Jones has been granted parole after a 12-month stay in a lower security facility followed by at least 90 days in long-term residential program. All terms date to his December parole hearing, according to a Massachusetts Parole Board decision released at the end of April.
Conditions for Jones’ parole call for him to be at home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. at the discretion of his parole officer during his monitored stays. He must be supervised for drug and liquor abstinence, he must report to his parole officer on the day of his release from the residential facility. He also must have no contact with family members of the victim, to whom he issued an apology at the December hearing, according to the Parole Board’s account.
Board members held that Jones merits a chance at freedom.
“After careful consideration of all the relevant facts, including the nature of the underlying offense, the age of the inmate at the time of the offense, criminal record, institutional record, the inmate’s testimony ... and the views of the public as expressed at the hearing or in written submissions to the board, we conclude that that the inmate is a suitable candidate for parole,” the board’s four-page decision reads.
The board said Jones’ “parole plan” includes a support system of family and corrections-based programming. Its statement also noted that Jones has been accepted to spend his low-security time in Answer House in South Boston and that he has “received an employment offer from a construction company, if granted parole.”
The decision also states that the 1993 death of Jones’ brother inspired him to carry out a life of sobriety, and that Jones has had a clean record without any disciplinary actions within the prison system since 1994.
Jones was among the convicted killers who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes and sentenced to life terms without parole who received a chance to seek parole due to a state Supreme Judicial Court decision.
He and 62 other violent offenders were given the reprieve when court issued a finding in December 2013 that criminals of that age did not have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of their actions, and therefore should not be subject to never having a chance at parole. Jones’ first parole bid in 2013 was denied.
The Parole Board has since held hearings for at least 43 of the convicts seeking release, according to state figures.
The court ruling does not sit well with Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, whose office sharply contested Jones’ bid for parole, as it has for other killers seeking parole. Among those, the Parole Board granted parole last October to John Nichypor, now 47 and one of three teens convicted in the 1988 Gloucester murder of David McLane in Gloucester, allegedly because they resented that McLane was gay. Nichypor was also released to a lower security facility, and will be released to his family in Florida, according to the Parole Board ruling.
“We obviously opposed (the Jones parole bid),” Carrie Kimball, communications director for the Essex DA’s office said in a phone interview. “From the very beginning, since the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that juveniles who were convicted of first-degree murder could not be sentenced without parole, we disagreed. We were disappointed, and we expressed our opposition at the time.
“We’re all about second chances for young people,” Kimball said, “but when it comes to first-degree murder — when there is deliberate premeditation or extreme atrocity or cruelty — we strongly believe those individuals should serve life without parole.”
Jones and then 16-year-old Kris Behsman conspired to rob Pinkham, before beating him with a rock and burning parts of his body with lit sticks while he was alive in the course of the slaying in an area off Cleveland and Grove streets. The area, because of the murder, as became known as “Dead Man’s Path.”
Behsman, who, like Jones, lived in the Maplewood Park housing complex at the time, was never tried as an adult.
A judge found probable cause against him for his role in the slaying, and ordered him remanded to the custody of the state Department of Youth Services. Behsman became eligible for release from that department at 18, and was ultimately freed.
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or firstname.lastname@example.org.